A full moon in February is known as a Snow Moon; this year’s Snow Moon will occur at the weekend, on February 27th.
Bright moonlight affects the behaviour of the reserve’s badgers: they travel shorter distances, foraging for food near the sett, and using the closest latrines rather than those on the clan’s boundaries. The males don’t go out and mark their territories with urine as often as they would if there was no moonlight. In general, badgers lie low during bright nights and are more active during other phases of the moon or under the cover of dense cloud.
There are several possible reasons for this and we are not certain about any of them. Badgers may feel that there is a higher risk of danger when they are more visible; there are no native predators left in Britain that would hunt a badger, but the badgers probably don’t know that. There is less mating behaviour when the moon is full, perhaps because badger mating rituals are lengthy and mating in the bright moonlight would put the pair in danger. But it is also possible that territory-marking, which we know is less frequent when the moonlight is bright, is such an important part of those mating rituals, that they cannot be completed without it.
Badgers are not the only species that stay out of the moonlight: earthworms, a major food source for badgers, seem to spend less time at the soil surface during a full moon. It has been suggested that all kinds of invertebrate species respond to the lunar cycle and are just not as available to a foraging badger as they might otherwise be during other phases of the moon. The badger, knowing the pickings will be small, may well just choose to stay home at full moon.
We know surprisingly little about the effects of the lunar cycle on the behaviour of animals, particularly when you consider the pervasive myths and legends we have told each other about the moon for millennia. If you ever walk in the nature reserve in the moonlight, tell us what you see, please; we would love to know.